When Tail Lights Lose Touch With Reality

To study the history of the automobile is to also be a student of technological progress — as with each decade’s models come new innovations to make them better handling, more corrosion-resistant, faster, more efficient, or whatever the needs of the moment dictate. But sometimes that technological advancement goes awry and works against the motorist, making for a vehicle that’s substantially worse than what went before. [FordTechMakuloco] has a video with an example in a Ford pickup, which we believe deserves to be shared.

The problem with the vehicle was simple enough, indeed it’s one we’ve had in the past ourselves. Water got into a tail light, and corroded some connectors. The difference with this Ford though was that such a simple fault took out the whole car, and that the fix for a simple tail light cost $5600. The first was due to a vehicle-wide CAN bus going down due to the electrical short, and the second was due to the assembly containing an assortment of wiring and modules which couldn’t be replaced separately. These included some form of side-facing parking radar, a component unnecessary for operation of the light itself. Some relatively straightforward design and component supply decisions such as separating subsystems across multiple CAN busses, ensuring individual modules are separately available, and even designing connectors to face downwards and self-drain, could have fixed it, but the automaker chose instead to build in some planned obsolescence. Would you buy a Ford truck after seeing the video below the break?

We’ve written here before about how automotive design has taken this wrong path, and even advanced a manifesto as to how they might escape it. This Ford tail light seems to us an egregious example of electronics-as-the-new-rust rendering what should be a good vehicle into a badly designed piece of junk, and honestly it saddens us to see it. Oddly, there was once a time when a Ford truck was about as good as you could get.

129 thoughts on “When Tail Lights Lose Touch With Reality

      1. Even if the middle ground would be giving access the proprietary to the decryption key, the current situation (decrypted) is bad : exterior lights provide an entrypoint in the CAN bus that can be used to take control of the car, which means some people take out the lights to steal them.

        1. Why is it a given that the lights need access to the data bus? For many decades it was enough to simply turn the lights on when needed by supplying power. Why should these simple devices need computer access?

          1. I’m not sure if it was in the HaD automotive wiring harness article, or something I read else where, but there is a big push to reduce the amount of wiring being ran through out the vehicle.

            Having a simple on/off switch would require extra wiring to ran the length of the vehicle. Where as if power +/- and CANbus are already in place, and if you use smart lights you can now have brake lights, backup lights, turn signals, night lights, etc. all working without running any additional copper (verse requiring additional wiring for each of those).

            Security seems to be an after thought, or perhaps just a numbers game for car makers.

          2. The taillight illuminating parts aren’t the issue, it’s the side impact blind spot radar modules collocated in the bottom part of the assembly that causes the CAN bus issue.

            Although, I hearing USA will soon get the adaptive headlights that EU already has. Use a matrix of directed elements and “steer” the lights away from oncoming cars, the upper part of the car in front of you, or highly reflective road signs. Surely that’d be CAN connected, and probably worth the improved experience. Lots of tiny lit points are worse on night blindness than one large light source, so hopefully they’re slightly diffused or something.

      2. What man can lock man can unlock. If its worth the effort…

        And I doubt the car makers will find it worth the effort to make the lock particularly tough to break or keep updating the security systems for every vehicle, while the folks that like to keep to their motors going will find it worth some effort. Apple gets away with it more to some extent because their devices while overpriced are still really quite cheap compared to the costs of doing a repair, but also because in a year or two the performance has fallen well away from the new stuff and after 5 years it is getting close to obsolete. But a car doesn’t really have any of those factors particularly in its favour so continually spending heaps to make each new car harder to work on and patch whatever flaws were found in the last itterations just isn’t worth it.

        1. Same holds true for ev’s. Tbe costs associated with replacing your batteries, isn’t far off of a buying a new one. Or how quickly insurance companies are to “total” a vehicle because of the ridiculous costs of repairs? Now, if you want to make the auto industry as shady as Apple……they could program your car to drastically underperform at a predetermined date. Effectively cutting your hp or mpg in half a year or two after the manufacturing date (and for all the trolls that want to point out ev’s don’t have mpg….if you’re not smart enough to realize I’m refering to combustion engines, then I’m quite surprised you can read at all!) . No way to fix it, but to buy a new model. The only difference is the auto companies dont have the kind of money Apple does to dump into lobbying those who are capable of pulling strings. Doest any of this matter? I doubt it. Our economy is on the fast track to total destruction anyway and the word “affordability” will cease to exist!

          1. Deere is very bad for that and it always frustrates me. iirc they even go as far as having sa5 check the edl (software and adapter) for authenticity, if it sees the adapter as a clone it will brick it intentionally.

          2. And more than a few fixes to get around their crap have been found, though JD do seem to be rather committed to fighting this war against their customers than most. But they haven’t actually stopped ‘unauthorised’ repair entirely despite all their effort and the pretty tiny market for a tractor repair. Just made it really annoying and pushed everyone to want older pre-BS or not JD machines, even if they have to ship parts in over oceans…

            Going that far is self defeating.

      3. The only acceptable solution to the disgusting issues of modern cars is to rip out the canbus, engine computer, et cetera and install a very basic EFI system and electronic spark advance to keep the mechanics turning over. Old analog stuff from the 80s that is repairable and isolated to its own specific system.

        I mocked cars with fancy computers networking everything together and people called me a luddite, called me Ted Kaczynski, all of that, but look where we are now: non-luxury cars cost 80k, they run terribly, you can’t work on them, they completely die if you crack a tail light and cost 5600 to fix, you can’t buy a decent small truck because of a certain president’s pointless and ineffective regulations.. I drive a beater 90s Ford Ranger that looks like it has been through a metal shredder and I get people desperately offering to buy it CONSTANTLY, because it’s a reasonably-sized pickup without computer shit clogging up every system, you can keep it going forever, gets 40mpg without any of the hybrid crap, just kept the weight reasonably low and designed the engine well.

        New cars are broken on purpose. The suffering is the point.

        1. I agree with most of that. I don’t know which Ranger gets 40 MPG, though. I have a 2009 in excellent condition, and it gets hideous mileage and weighs over 4000 pounds. Nonetheless, I am confident that it’s worth as much as 50% more than I paid for it.

          1. Having owned an ’80s and also a ’90s Ford Ranger, even with the 2WD, manual transmission, single cab, 4 cylinder options and with the truck bed removed, I don’t believe it would ever get close to 40mpg without some trickery (over a long down hill section only).

      4. How about have a ir eye lined up with the brake pedal and wire that to the brake light.
        Then disconnect the computer nonsense.(assuming the car will even run without it)
        This isn’t the best solution but it beats the idiocy that is built in to these vehicles.

          1. Don’t know for cars but a common one for motorbikes if you change your footpegs/rear brake lever and the original electronic switch won’t fit any more is to replace one of the banjo bolts with a pressure sensor switch.

            Switch detects the pressure in the brake fluid when you use the brake and can be wired into the brake light circuit instead

    1. All of this is easily remedied and prevented in less than 5 minutes, and that time includes getting the tools out and putting them away.

      For a brief time in my life I was a certified auto-body technician. We had many new cars and trucks roll into our shop with moisture and even cups of water in the head and tail light assemblies. All you need to do, obviously before the moisture gets bad, is take a small drill bit and drill two holes in each assembly, one at the bottom so all the water can escape, and one in the top, so air can enter. Once all of the water drains and the moisture dissolves, you’ll be set for the life of the vehicle, unless of course there is a collision that breaks the lense or the casing too bad for repair.

      Do not plug the holes after, let the air move in and out and keep everything dry.

      I’ve also seen the progression of these absolutely and completely Unnecessary “nanny, driving aided devices” that are actually making people worse drivers than they were before all of these crutches were inserted. If you adjust your mirrors properly, you’ll never have any blind spots and you’ll Never have to turn your head around and look over your shoulder while driving forward, and Take Your Eyes Off of the Road Ahead of you.

      If people would leave their phones down while driving, that would also help.

      But now that there are sensors, people think they can rely on them to “see” what’s around their cars, and cause a collision when they don’t look first. These sensors add unreasonable cost to the initial purchase and even more to the repair bills, and we are not paid accordingly to R&R them either.

      1. The only vehicle I have ever driven with absolutely zero blind spots while facing forward is a USPS Mail Truck. Maybe it’s because I’m very tall, but I’m my subcompact cars the traditional right and left blind spots have always applied.

        1. Then you haven’t adjusted your mirrors correctly. The root issue is that too many people have too much overlap between the sideview and rear mirror. To adjust your mirrors correctly, do this:

          1. Adjust your rearview mirror so you have a nice centered view through your rear window.
          2. Take note of some landmark on the left edge of your rearview mirror.
          3. Adjust your left sideview mirror so that landmark is just barely visible on the right edge of the mirror.
          4. Take note of some landmark on the right edge of your rearview mirror.
          5. Adjust your right sideview mirror so that landmark is just barely visible on the left edge of the mirror.

          Things to note. If properly adjusted, you WILL NOT see the side of your vehicle in the sideview mirrors. Additionally, for anything visible in a mirror, it will be visible in only ONE mirror.

          Now, with the mirrors adjusted correct, you’ll see the following as another vehicle overtakes you.
          1. You’ll see it in the rear view mirror.
          2. As the vehicle starts to disappear from the rearview mirror, it will start to appear in the appropriate side view mirror.
          3. As it disappears from the sideview mirror, you’ll start to see it in your peripheral vision.

        2. My 1957 jeep forward control FC150 had no blind spots, 4wheel drive and never got a speeding ticket (top speed 53 mph)

          One issue is currently drivers do 53 in left lane and 80 in the right lane also NEVER using rear view mirrors

      2. I don’t think I was ever given formal instruction in how to adjust mirrors. Wasn’t until I saw a blurb in C&D that I started setting the side mirrors to a wide view with very little overlap of with the rearview that I did so. Now basically no blind spot.

  1. Well, it’s a Ford, what else would you expect?

    Recently, I’ve been passing a new Puma with rather crisp design. I love the way it looks, but unfortunatelly.. it’s still a Ford 🙄

    1. I suspect Ford are no different from any other manufacturer in this respect; my 2006 Mercedes Benz is full of pointless, ridiculous electronic crap whose only purpose in life is to fail and render the vehicle beyond economic repair. If I hadn’t invested £250 in a Chinese knock-off multiplexer setup and learned some stuff (the laptop is mightier than the spanner these days it appears), the thing would have been in the scrapyard long ago.

      I don’t do the IoT at home – who needs a network enabled fridge anyway? – so I won’t be rushing out to buy a car that needs an internet connection either. Tinfoil hat? Or a case of ‘if you give these b******s an inch, they’ll take a mile’? You decide:


    2. I hadn’t heard of the Ford Puma. Does it come with a pair of Puma sneakers to allow the driver to get out and push it to the side of the road when it breaks down?

    1. That is downside of CAN. A shorted bus will prohibit other devices to use it. Your car copes with this by having multiple CAN buses so critical systems arent affected bij a short in the taillight. At least in theory.

      Some cars you can access the security CAN by removing the headlight and steal the car. I believe not directly but through a gateway which connects both CAN networks

        1. Sure it exists. The point is that the car makers will never install it. Costs money and reduces parts and maintenance revenue.

          Next time you’re near any place that does car work, look in the lot for employee cars.

  2. Let’s be fair…it is not just Ford. Technology has been crammed into devices where the usage is questionable and used to build in obsolescence. Whatever keeps product or spares shipping keeps the economic wheels turning.

  3. Why I will keep my Ford 2007 Explorer SUV.
    Employer offered new company vehicle. I declined.
    The HVAC controls are simple *physical* knobs
    you rotate, buttons you physically push in/out – none
    of that “virtual” keyboard bullshit (where you have
    to navigate multiple menus to accomplish a simple
    task, like increasing or decreasing fan speed).

    Servicing is also simple. Only needed a bi-directional
    scan tool to flush ABS system.

    Had burned out tail light, fix ? pop out assembly,
    replace bulb.

    The Gen 4 Explorers were the best (IMO) – before they
    went to that horrible “squished” rear look with that god awful
    shelf over the back window….mediocrity at it’s finest ! the
    masses copied that design en-masse.

    1. The Ford Exploder?
      They, like many many other vehicles, have had obsoletion baked in for decades.
      Hell, even shit from the 70’s and 60’s had increasing degrees of intentional obsoletion engineered into certain components…
      They just didn’t know how far they could get away with it yet.
      So in reality, older vehicles end up being the more durable and lasting ones.
      Howard Hughes invented a closed cycle thermal turbine engine that ran with no electricity or combustion, only the ambient heat our planet gets from the sun. It’s required ‘fuel’ was freon.
      This was a closed loop cycle system, so the freon wasn’t released or consumed any more than an air-conditioner does. Opposite of an internal combustion engine, the thing had to use air to stay warm and not freeze up, and you had all the air conditioning you could stand for free.
      My grandfather witnessed it in the desert of New Mexico in the 50’s. The thing ran day and night during testing, with drivers rotating out constantly, with near zero emissions or fuel intake. Where did that all end up? The big shadow entity killed him and buried the technology. What did ‘ big shadow ‘ do about the propellant freon? In order to prevent this problematic technology from ever returning, they eliminated freon in increasing steps, neutering it from existence, and lying about the reasons.

      1. Don’t you think that if this or any of the other “free energy” machines existed, governments and militaries around the world would be using them? And why does it seem like same people who think the military conveniently swoops in and hides all evidence of aliens, strangely also believe that private industry is so powerful they are able to collude and hide technology from the government. And these people always have an uncle who knows all about the cover-up.

      2. Solar thermal is not an unknown thing.
        Hot side concentrated solar, cold side ambient.
        Nobody has been able to make it work economically.
        Not even ‘economically’ (big subsidies).

        Freon is not a unique working fluid.
        Propane is excellent. So is Ammonia. I suggest you start your experiments there.
        Beware the ‘well ventilated space’ conspiracy’!
        If god had meant for you to have a flow hood, she would have given you one.

  4. Lights on a vehicle shouldn’t be computer controlled. Nor should other simple things like power windows. The first generation Ford Sport Trac had a vertical sliding power rear window. All of the trucks shipped from the factory with the rear window in an error state which the dealers had to correct with the “chicken dance” consisting of a specific combination of turning the ignition key and opening and closing the driver’s door.

    The control switch for the window, if pushed in, opened the rear window to a vent position. Rotating the knob opened and closed the window. The functionality could have been achieved easier and cheaper using a simple circuit module in the window unit with simple direct power to it and a vertical toggle on the dash.

    I remember reading magazine articles in the 1980’s about how a multiplexed data bus would make vehicle wiring simpler, with fewer wires. HA! It’s constantly become more complex with more wires despite having the CAN bus.

    Time to throw it all away and start over. Base it on USB but with 12 volt, high amperage power in place of the 5 volt, half amp power. Blend in the daisy chain style of connection from Firewire. The control computer could have 7 or 8 ports. One port each running to the “four corners” connecting lights, locks, windows, power seats. One port to the engine. One port to the transmission. One port to the infotainment system.

    Make all the connectors identical because everything that plugs in has an address and onboard power regulation if it doesn’t need the full 12V and high current. Make it so the connections to the control unit and all the peripherals can be scrambled up any which way and it’ll still work perfectly because the wiring doesn’t matter.

    I know that goes counter to simple things not needing computer control, but to truly *simplify and reduce* the amount of wiring, that’s pretty much the only way to do it.

    But obviously don’t build stupidly over complicated modules like this Ford taillight, not unless all the various sub-parts can be replaced individually. The main bus wire would plug into the light+ module, which would have its own hub/switch/control to provide power and data communication as needed across a PCB or wires built into the assembly.

    The engine and transmission would also have a hub, and the cables branching from it and the sensors etc. they plug into would all use the exact same connectors. Same story as with the rest of the car. Connect the wires however you please and it still works. A 16 bit address for each “smart” thing in a car should be enough of them.

    Create an industry standard so everyone’s left front headlamp has the same address, and so on. Not that you’d be able to mount a Ford left front headlamp on a Fiat, but if you used duct tape to hold it to the fender it’d still work, at least for on/off high/low functions.

    Just think of how much money the automotive industry would save on wiring connectors by dropping from a large number of different plugs and sockets across all the brands – to one.

    1. I don’t object to computer controlled, as that actually has benefits done properly that make it worth it, and it doesn’t need ‘real’ computing power… For instance it is much much easier to adapt a vehicle to folks with special needs if the controls are computerised already, and it is relatively easy to detect a failed light etc with the computer based systems and inform the driver etc. But you do have to do it properly, not just as a way to cheap out on wiring and force obsolescence for lack of spare parts.

      With how cheap and reliable USB chips are and that transmissions over longer distance have proven usually problem free for ages I could get behind that core concept I think, would want to think on it some more. However POE seems to me a better choice of concept to rip off – put a switch in the rear and front for short runs to everything and again the hardware requirements are fairly easily met and you probably don’t need to make any changes to the POE standard you picked.

    2. They calculated the cost of all the wires going to the back of the car, compared it to 2 wires and a cheap device with output/input count comparable to the # of wires eliminated.
      Found it to be about a wash.
      Then they realized how much they could charge for a new tailgate computer. Combined with capacitors selected to fail early/be cheap and it’s a goldmine.

      Building a KISS model and a new car company at the same time is failing before you start.
      You’ll go bankrupt at the DOT. Compliance costs are insane.

  5. All that technology and they still have not fixed the significant major flaws of modern taillights:

    1. Old turn signals faded over a period of a tenth-second or so as the filament cooled. Modern LEDs have a hard off, which makes them very difficult to see and localize in your peripheral vision. This psychovisual characteristic has been known for decades, yet the automakers chose to ignore it. They could so easily have improved conspicuity and safety by programming a hard-on and fade-off in turn signals, but didn’t.

    2. The combined red turn signal and brake light is a crime against humanity. Ford introduced it to save money, but it’s well recognized as a safety issue. Yet even European and Asian automakers, who sensibly use an amber turn signal in most markets, kowtow to the American market by producing vehicles with this critical safety flaw.

    3. PWM-modulated combined tail and brake lights, where the brake light is run dimly to function as a tail light, are the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. The flicker is distracting and annoying and, again, makes the light hard to localize in peripheral vision. It’s a safety hazard and has no need to exist except to save a few pennies for the automaker. Ironically, they first appeared in high-end vehicles.

      1. Read it again. Tail lights, not brake lights.
        When run PWM, and you shift gaze to the car, the strobe effect causes the tail light to appear not where the car is for a moment until it syncs up. Fscking annoying and distracting. And so easy to fix, but they didn’t care to.

        1. At my plant all the lighting was replaced with New, Energy Efficient LEDS™ that are over driven to the point of premature failure, and strobe at 120hz. The duty cycle is about 50% so watching moving machines or driving around in the warehouse is maddening. No one else seems to see a problem though.

          1. That’s interesting I work for a company that’s a leading manufacturer of lighting for rail and road as an ee.

            In most cases you wouldn’t want the led to be at above typical as heat causes the LED’s to essentially dim over a period of time.

            As all vehicle lighting has to fit various standards and beam patterns from a set distance this would cause issue in certification.

            Most automotive lighting designs that I’ve seen are just a input protection an emi filter and a current source.

    1. I wonder how it can be cheaper to put in some PWM circuitry rather than a two prong bulb like in my 1990 Saab 900, maybe the extra cost is recouped through more expensive maintenance and shorter lifespan.

  6. “separating subsystems across multiple CAN busses, ensuring individual modules are separately available, and even designing connectors to face downwards and self-drain, could have fixed it”

    Automobiles have been designed for quick assembly, not after sale service, since the Model T. All those suggestions would slow down the assembly line.

    You know what else would have fixed it? Watertight taillights.

    1. During the 1990s a friend bought a used Toyota (Tercel?).
      Its taillights were almost half full of water.
      I drilled a small hole in the bottom of each taillight to let the water drain out, as I wasn’t able to get them apart.
      Only recently it occurred to me he “may have” bought a flood victim.

      1. Sealed units can & will pump themselves full of moisture through heat/cool cycles in moist air, it’s why making stuff sealed is rarely the best idea unless you’re actually building a submersible.

  7. And people complain about automakers using legacy tech when it’s simple stuff like this that fails. An electrical shirt on the CAN because of a component arguably furthest away from the controller is really bad.

  8. “The problem with the vehicle was simple enough, indeed it’s one we’ve had in the past ourselves. Water got into a tail light, and corroded some connectors.”

    Well, here’s your problem. Given that this vehicle is FIVE YEARS OLD, how can the gaskets/seals fail that quickly. This is not a 21st century problem. It’s a 20th century problem, and other manufacturers seem to have solved it…but not Ford! Outrageous. What a POS.

    As to the repair costing $5600, the customer would have probably been better off financially in the long run selling the vehicle wholesale and then buying a 20-30 year old Chevy truck from the South or West.

    Looking forward for more competition in the US auto market which will force domestic manufacturers to radically improve or just go out of business. Apparently they have learned nothing from Japanese competition.

  9. I’ve experienced this exact problem on my 2018 F-150. A cracked tail light was working fine until we had a snow day, and I was nowhere close to home. My taillights have cracks from towing mishaps with a AATV that juts forward on the trailer, and swings awfully close in a tight turn/backing situation. Lessons learned there.

    It started with the center stack and climate control not responding and/or wouldn’t start, or would appear with partially populated UI elements and a bogus 50° F exterior temperature. Loss of HVAC caused my windshield to start fogging up, in heavy snow on the freeway. It’d come back for a half minute at a time, coinciding with left curves and any small road bump. Not long after, flurries of notifications and errors would blip in and out in the instrument panel display. (driver seat) “Memory recall not permitted while driving”, “Cross traffic system fault”, “Blind spot system fault”, and others. At one stop along the way, I got locked out of the truck, keyless entry and the combo button panel wouldn’t unlock anything, but the tailgate worked, and funny enough after that I could open the door. By the time I arrived to pick up my wife at a store near home, I had some more errors and then “Key not detected”…. thankfully I was shifted into Drive already by then.

    After the snow day, problems were much less frequent and the dealer couldn’t find the issue. Another month later the problems returned, and I got it on video. The dealer finally saw it for themselves, and it took them and Ford Engineering four weeks to find the problem. One of the CANBUS would get errors in the SODL or SODR module (side facing radar modules in the tail lights), taking down that entire bus with it. They cleaned up the connector but said it could return with the tail lights being cracked, and said I found replace them both for five grand. They refused to just transfer over the modules into a new set of lights, claiming calibration procedures that dealers are not set up for. I declined and thankfully was not charged a penny for losing my truck for a month and getting a loaner for about half that time.

    I now have identical looking aftermarket taillight plastics in hand and will transfer over the modules myself. Time will tell if the rear blind spot modules will work the same without a recalibration. I plan to load up the connectors with SuperCorr-A, and if possible seal them with Temflex 2155 tape. This video comes just in time to possibly aid me in how to get the old ones out.

    1. Do yourself a favour, mount the radar modules on their own waterproof container as close as you can to the or location, I’m an autospark I repair lots of these due to water ingress (not on ford pickups as we don’t get them in the UK) the positioning never seems to be too critical ,or as critical as front radar.

        1. America has pickups, England has white vans.

          Because England is more full of thieves than the USA.
          Not sure if you actually have more thieves per capita or if it’s just living too close.

    2. Ford doesn’t require a calibration for blind spot radars. And Ford does not even provide a procedure for calibration of the Blindspot modules. The only thing that would require any scan tool interaction would be if the Blindspot modules were replaced with new ones. Then they would require programming. And you cannot install used modules as that would cause a error as they are programmed for vin specific.
      I know all this because I perform ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist System) calibrations for a living

  10. Bulb. Most people and designers are thinking bulb. Wake up! Nearly all LED lights that aren’t retro fit “bulbs” are going to be real maintenance issues. When it requires an electrician to replace a light on the ceiling or a “taillight” on your car it’s gotten out of hand. LED designs will always flirt with higher temperature and shorter life on purpose. Those long sculpted taillight lenses will crack get wet and leak water into a very expensive array of LED’s, CAN or cannot.

  11. Guess I will be hanging onto my 1995 Ford Thunderbird 4.6 as long as possible. It’s so old they don’t even bother plugging into the OBD2 port during annual inspection, safety only.

  12. The Ford Sync 2 (by Microsoft!) in my 2015 European Ford Mondeo is the worst pile of unreliable garbage I’ve ever encountered in a car, and I used to drive Citroens in the early 90s. The entire Bluetooth system would regularly crash and the only way to recover it was to reboot the car by disconnecting the battery, or as I stupidly realised after a long time, pull the fuse for the “entertainment” system. Eventually I glued on an arm to the fuse so I could power-cycle quickly.

    I’m pretty sure Microsoft got out of that business after the catastrophe of that product. People who rely on Ctrl-Alt-Del to deal with issues have no business writing car software.

    I recently took a chance on a €200 Aliexpress-special replacement. A full touch-screen Android based unit that replaced all the media parts and provided slots to transfer the manual heater controls. Installation with zero instructions was pleasantly easy and I’ve been in awe of it ever since. It has full Android Auto support. Steering wheel controls work. Parking alerts work. Heating controls work (both manual and touch-screen). I could even add a reversing camera but I’m too lazy to route all the wiring.

    I’m honestly mind-blown that a no-name Chinese company reverse engineered the entire thing (and tons of other cars) and built something 100x better than Ford shipped with. I’m looking forward to my first electric car being Chinese.

  13. One of the guys at work had an older Cadillac, and the rear taillights stopped working because of water ingress one winter.

    Because his state requires an annual test for registration, his SUV is sidelined till he can fix the lights.

    No problem, right? He just went to get new ones – except that because of styling, the lights are unique to that particular model – the car wasn’t made in big numbers, so GM discontinued the specific parts he needed.

    The only option was used or salvage parts. The cheapest he can find usable units is $1200. *EACH*

    Again, that’s $1200 for a TAILLIGHT !

    He brought them into work, and we opened one up, and it’s trivial inside, a typical CAN receiver, little power supply, some driver chips and a bank of LED’s. Fifty bucks, max.

    For a moment, I thought “Hey! I could totally start sweet a side gig repairing these! If I charged people say, $600 that’s still half the rate for a salvage part, and for each one I did I could put $550 in my pocket for an hour of work on a Saturday afternoon!”

    Then I realized that I would be sued.

    Again and again. First by GM, who would sue me for making a part they abandoned but still owned the rights to. Then, by NHTSA for ‘modifying a vehicle braking system’ or something. And then by personal injury lawyers all over America whenever any of these cars got into an accident for any reason at all.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    1. Someone judgement proof could still work that hustle.

      I doubt the manufacturers would care, they haven’t about similar things in the past.
      Feds can’t be arsed to notice, unless paid to notice by someone else.
      The first accident would end the endeavor.

      Also insanely large inventory or on demand.
      You’d have to work with a junkyard owner, don’t do that. They aren’t honest people.
      As a group, junkyard owners can only be compared to politicians. They’re that bad. Count your fingers if you shake their hands.
      Corporate yards, even worse.

  14. Hmmm, I’m getting a sense of deja vu here. Back a few decades ago, after Chrysler bought Jeep, and they added their Chrysler CAN bus (singular bus!) to the once reliable Jeeps. The radio was on this one CAN bus, and if it faulted would lock the bus and then brick the Jeep, leaving you stranded (which for a Jeep could be a bit more catastrophic than a normal car). It was easily the stupidest thing ever, and rightfully the butt of many jokes from mechanics of the era (one of whom was my dad). Jeeps had long been computerized, but not networked. Thirty+ years ago arguably a stupid newbie mistake, but today this is intentional incompetence (and as a Ford owner, frightening).

    I see three issues here.
    1) Reliability: obviously there should be multiple busses. At least one for critical (i.e. Engine) functions, one for security (i.e. door locks), and one for everything else. Brake lights are critical (and shouldn’t be on a bus), but cross traffic and parking assist are not critical. This is basic vehicle safety/reliability 101. Bad behavior on any bus should instigate an appropriate limp mode (and better data logging, it surprises me how many OBD codes are not sticky).
    2) Repairability/Environmental: The government has stringent pollution and gas mileage requirements, but one of the largest contributors to environmental impact damage is manufacturing these vehicles. Minor fender benders (or water leaks) can easily total a perfectly usable vehicle making any gains from high MPG moot due to repair costs. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that you cannot replace the light housing and reuse the other internal components (as SOP) is criminally stupid (but this is just the tip of the iceberg). Time to have some rules for all automakers to be required to provide technical ICDs for the electronic piece parts in a car (at least released 5 years after initial production).
    3) Consumer rights: See #2.

    IMHO, these issues apply not just to cars but all heavy appliances.

  15. There’s a reason that older Ford trucks (and pickups in general) are becoming popular. There’s far less crap to deal with when it comes to repair, even if it was a work truck that got beat to hell and back. Half of modern vehicles you can’t even add transmission fluid too without a tool from the dealership. Can’t wait to see the Chilton manuals for future cars. “Page 1: Take to dealer. Plug into ECS monitor.” UGH.

    Also the reason why Ford 2006 F-Series trucks are amongst the most stolen. Easy to strip for parts, which will sell because…. the vintage models are popular and easy to repair.

    1. Dealer won’t sell you a bottom fill transmission refill kit.
      They say: ‘It sealed unit, fluid good for life of car.’
      You have to get it on Amazon.

      Of course if you ask ZF, they say: ‘WTF? No. Trans fluid life same as always. Who said ‘sealed unit’?’ (only in German). Then they go quite when you say VW/Benz/BMW.

  16. I have a subaru outback. I c ould not release the handbrake, neither could roadside assist and the vehicle had to towed away 60km to a Subaru dealer. The cause? Supposed to be a tiny leak in the sun roof going down the front door pillar, messing with the electrics. Subaru said it was a known problem but took no responsibility for it.

  17. God, I HATE it when a sensor failure in these new cars bricks the vehicle.
    My wife’s Chevy Volt wouldn’t start because there was a fault with the gas cap door sensor.
    The ridiculous thing is, you don’t even need gas to drive the car — it’s battery powered!
    We had to get the car towed to the dealer and wait a couple days for the part. Stupid!

  18. As much as I hate the insurance industry, since they’re handling much of the cost of these poor design decisions, perhaps they could play a role in stopping them.
    If insurance on stupidly designed cars were outrageously high, there would be more used models available and the manufacturers might take notice when they can no longer sell their new cars due to this glut. It would suck for the current owners, but buyers would quickly learn to check insurance rates for their next car before they sign the paperwork.
    Government has largely been captured by the auto industry so a regulatory fix is not likely. Insurance is the other way to change this externality into something that does affect the manufacturers.

    1. Insurance just charges more. Look up the price to insure a BMW vs any other similarly overpriced vehicle.

      That’s because a shopping cart hitting the door totals a BMW and everybody has known it for decades. It’s the center crumple zone.

      People seeking status symbols treat cars as Veblin goods. That’s a surprising part of the population.

      They like to brag about how much their latest POS costs.

      I blame the Chinese. A German car in China is a pure status symbol. Germany now sells 40% of their cars to China. Making them worse and more expensive is just serving their biggest market. Must piss off the aware part of their German customers. They can just buy a Japanese car, so all is well. Except the Japanese cars aren’t good either, just not as bad, yet.

  19. I used to drive a 2nd generation Audi TT roadster. I started getting intermittent messages about a bad brake light, even after installing a new bulb, so while I had it in for service I had the mechanic look at it. The “service professional” told me there was a “bad LED” in the taillight and they needed to replace the whole thing for $400. I said no thanks because I already knew there were no LEDs in the tail light. It turned out to be a corroded ground contact in the connector. I ran a separate wire for the ground and it worked perfectly until the day I totaled the car.

  20. I have one of the late noughties Lemon Aid Used card guides and in that the author of many years experience in the field said that “today’s” cars could be expected to last 250,000 miles and expressed optimism that that figure was improving…. hah!

    We’ve got a bunch of vehicles taken out of service over airbag debacles, engines eating themselves, transmissions made of glass, dumbass decisions that break their brains due to log file overflowing or other trivially engineer-able omissions, and now this kind of “not all that much wrong but the computer won’t let it…” jackassery. Along with a laundry list of other “Didn’t they get that right in the 80s????” kind of what the hell were they thinking mistakes.

    Thus it would surprise me if the true figure was not down to 150,000 miles or less for post 2010 model years. Yes, I too can google photos of odometers reading a lot higher than that, but it’s the scrapped already ones that are pulling the numbers down, not the remaining lucky few that have you putting the survivorship bias blinkers on.

    1. Back in the day, when you could look under the hood and see pavement, it was a big deal for vehicles to reach even 100,000 miles and such things as clutch replacements, valve jobs, ring jobs, etc were routine for anyone who kept a vehicle more than a few years. The mechanicals of today’s vehicles are better than those of the mid to late 20th century, it’s the needless electronic technology, “bottom line” stockholder profit manufacturing philosophy, and excessive complexity that make today’s vehicles worse than the older ones. I have a 1997 Dodge Cummins that I would not trade even up for a brand new one. I would love to see a latter day Model T or Volkswagen Beetle, basic simple transportation that everyday people can understand and maintain. Now, THAT, would be an engineering challenge.

  21. I bet you people thought it took the Germans to tie a basic vehicle function to an overpriced failure prone computer. Just imagine that it takes all this to light an idiot light on your gauge cluster. We have truly lost our way.

  22. It’s not the fault of the advanced electronics themselves, it’s the cost cutting design decisions that cause these issues. It’s cheaper to only have one circuit board that controls everything, rather than 30 different control boards that all have their own necessary wiring and connectors to each other and the rest of the car. Take that design philosophy combined with a bunch of MBAs and you get what you see today

  23. The CAN bus needs a firewall between anything outside the cabin (the physical security perimeter). This would at least provide a place to mitigate the hack the car via the headlight type problem. A second thing that would improve reliability would be to use dual current & voltage signals for the data. This kind of physical layer can work even if a node is shorted, at least up to where the short is. Everything closer to the controller will work normally. This is well developed technology, used in missile launchers for aircraft so that a detached missile will not disable the whole fire control system if the connector gets melted. Of course it will need to be optimized for automotive and industrial use, but I would be surprised if some of that has not already been done.

  24. Oh look. My 91 Ford f250 with the diesel will never have that problem.
    Tail lights are 50 bucks, and the most advanced piece of electronics in that truck–the transmission control unit–is available online for $108.

    I can repair or hobble home anything on that truck with a set of wrenches and my Leatherman.

    Newer isn’t always better.

  25. A lot of electrons are being spilled over this Ford taillight assembly fault issue. It seems Cord picked a less savvy implantation than a sensible engineer would have executed. We have the luxury of 20:20 hindsight armchair engineering. An engineer better than abject rookie would know how to design N+1 redundancy, to avoid single point of failure, and test for reliability. Something tells me that robustness was designed out in pursuit of cost reduction.

    1. The best thing, for consumer products, is let the user be the designer. Then let the engineers take over to determine a structurally, mechanically and or electrically sound way to make the product in such a way as it will last a reasonable (to the user) service life. The simplest that will completely fulfill the mission is the ideal.

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